Increased motorisation in developing markets is contributing to high road traffic deaths, but other than huge investment in new infrastructure, what can be done to reduce them?


In this post we take a look at road traffic deaths in newly developing economies and ask what could be done to reduce them. Ninety one per cent of road traffic deaths occur in low and middle income countries, according to The World Health Organisation (WHO)¹, which predicts that ‘without new or improved interventions road traffic injuries will be the third leading cause of death by 2020’².


According to WHO, of all low income countries India had the highest estimated number of road traffic deaths in 2010, standing at 231,027³. Nigeria came second with an estimated 53,339 road traffic deaths⁴. Of all middle income countries, China had the highest number of road traffic deaths of any country in the world at 275,983⁵. In the UK however, road deaths fell to 1,713, the lowest level since records started in 1926⁶. It would not be disingenuous to say that while China’s economy has expanded exponentially in the past decade, health and safety measures have not necessarily improved at the same rate.


polution bike china road


In the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Vinand M Nantulya, a senior research scientist at Harvard University, states that deaths and road traffic injuries are ‘increasing at a fast rate in developing countries due to rapid motorisation and other factors’⁷. As these burgeoning economies expand cars will become increasingly affordable. But it is not clear whether improvements in road infrastructure will grow at a rate to support this development or whether the governments of those economies will introduce rigid safety measures such as sophisticated highway codes, speed limits, laws controlling the use of mobile phones at the wheel, or whether they will insist their drivers wear seat belts for example, the majority of which are the norm in western economies and are designed to protect drivers from road accidents. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) states that ‘in emerging markets and developing economies, there is a general, urgent need for structural reforms to strengthen growth potential’⁸. But will the investment required be too prohibitive and are there any other potential solutions to the high death toll from road traffic accidents in developing markets?


If we look at what telematics is doing to reduce accident rates in the UK the picture is very promising and telematics is becoming more and more popular. Young drivers insured by insurethebox are 70% less likely to cause an accident after a year of insurance, about half of which is directly due to telematics.


There is a definite scope and advantage both on a societal and financial level to develop an affordable telematics-based solution to the growing burden of road deaths in developing countries. Mobile phone technology in expanding economies is very affordable, widely available and has good coverage (90% of the population has 2G coverage⁹). This would suggest that a mobile telematics application could be a sensible way forward for low and middle income countries as it is low cost and can use the mobile phone connectivity of these countries relatively easily.


Telematics is not a silver bullet solution to road traffic deaths, but it has vast scope to improve driving behaviour globally. If a mobile-based telematics application could be implemented in developing countries the potential to reduce road traffic accidents and fatalities could be exponential.




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